Timbers survive and advance
A match that was sleepy for most of the first 70 minutes turned downright wacky on Tuesday at the MLS is Back Tournament.
Portland Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark made up for his own gaffe by stopping a shootout penalty kick to help the Timbers advance to the quarterfinals by beating FC Cincinnati in a penalty-kick tiebreaker at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.
Portland won the tiebreaker 4-2 and advances to the final eight of the tournament. The Timbers will face New York City FC at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinal round.
After squandering a late lead and being lucky to finish in a 1-1 tie, the Timbers converted all four of their penalty kicks, rescuing a game the Timbers practically blundered away late.
Jaroslaw Niezgoda scored the Timbers goal shortly after coming off the bench, and the Polish striker sealed the win by converting his penalty kick.
Portland seemed to have the round-of-16 match secured until Clark played a long ball with his feet, instead of picking it up. His touch got away from him and the Timbers keeper brought down Cincinnati's Allan Cruz, who hustled forward to pressure Clark.
In this tournament, there is no extra 30 minutes added to tied matches, so the game went directly to penalties at the end of the second half.
That Clark was ready to respond did not surprise the Timbers.
"If you knew Steve Clark, you would know he doesn't need support," Portland's Sebastian Blanco said through a translator. "I love his personality. Steve knew about his mistake, and he knew he would save us."
Clark said as much, according to coach Giovanni Savarese.
"If you know Clark, Clark is one that bounces (back) right away. When we went to PKs, he told me 'I got it. Don't worry,'" Savarese said.
Clark gave Portland the upper hand in the PKs when he dove to his left to stop Cincinnati's third shooter, Jurgen Locadia. Next, Cincinnati's Kendall Waston sent his PK over the bar.
Locadia converted from the spot in the 81st minute to tie the score, and the forward from the Netherlands should have won it for Cincinnati in the 87th minute but badly shanked an open chance from three yards in front of goal.
Portland's four penalty takers were all true. Diego Valeri, Felipe Mora, Blanco and Niezgoda converted against FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton. Tyton guessed correctly once, but Blanco's well-struck shot was beyond the keeper's reach.
As expected, FC Cincinnati crowded its defensive 18-yard box and dared Portland to attack. The plan worked until Niezgoda scored for Portland in the 67th minute, calmly finishing from in front of goal. Blanco found rare space to dribble into the penalty area and deliver a quick ball to the Niezgoda.
Blanco said he chose to pass the ball low because Cincinnati's tall defenders were making it difficult to get crosses into dangerous areas.
"I thought if I tried through the ground it would be easier. More than a cross, it was just a pass," Blanco said. "I saw him. Fortunately, he was able to control the ball perfectly and then score."
Up to that point, Cincinnati's plan to defend with all 10 field players deep had denied Portland much in the way of dangerous chances. It was making the Timbers play into traffic the way it did in wins over Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls during group play.
"Clinical finish from Niezgoda. But what work from the entire team against a team that we knew was going to be very difficult today," Savarese said.
Until the frantic last quarter hour, Savarese said his team did well to stay patient and not let frustration take over. The coach said remaining emotionally balanced was a key component of the match, along with not forcing passes into areas crowded with defenders.
"I thought the team did a great job to make sure that we were patient, that we moved the ball around, that we tried to find the right areas to be able to create space and and try to beat them in behind," Savarese said.
One goal figured to be enough until Clark's error handed FC Cincinnati the penalty that Lucadia converted.
Cincinnati thought it had the lead in the 61st minute when Mathieu Deplagne got on the end of a free kick and put the ball in the net. But a video review showed Deplagne was slightly offside when the kick was struck.
Six minutes later, three minutes after Niezgoda came on for Yimmi Chara, the Timbers had the lead.
As goals will do, the game soon changed, but likely would have seen Portland cruise to victory if not for Clark's mistake.
Before the game reached penalties, Clark bobbled a shot from distance by Siem de Jong and saw the ball bounce off the goalpost and out.
Valeri nearly put Portland back on top with a well-struck 18-yard shot that zipped off the top of the crossbar in the 85th minute.
Portland started brightly. Jeremy Ebobisse sent a header just high in the fourth minute, meeting a Blanco delivery.
In the 10th minute, Valeri tried to surprise goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton with a free kick taken from near the left-wing goal line.
In the 22nd minute, Tyton made a big save after a lovely pass from Valeri sent in Yimmi Chara for a chance from the corner of the 6-yard box.
Now the Timbers face a different challenge. New York City FC will have rested two more days than Portland when Saturday's quarterfinal arrives. Savarese acknowledged the extra rest might help NYCFC.
"But our group is doing very well physically. During the quarantine, we worked physically a lot. And I think we're going to go out with our best XI."
MLS is Back
Round of 16
Philadelphia 1, New England 0
Sporting Kansas City 0, Vancouver 0 (Sporting KC advances on PKs, 3-1)
New York City FC 3, Toronto FC 1
Portland 1, FC Cincinnati 1 (Portland advances on PKs, 4-2)
Orlando City 1, Montreal 0
Los Angeles FC 4, Seattle 1
San Jose 5, Real Salt Lake 2
Minnesota United 1, Columbus 1 (Minnesota advances on PKs, 5-3)
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC, 5 p.m. July 30 (ESPN)
NYCFC vs. Portland/Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 (FS1)
Orlando City vs. LAFC, 4:30 p.m., July 31 (FS1)
San Jose vs. Minnesota, 5 p.m. Aug. 1 (ESPN2)
Philadelphia/Sporting KC vs. Portland/NYCFC, 5 p.m. Aug. 5 (FS1)
Orlando/LAFC vs. San Jose/Minnesota, 5 p.m. Aug. 6 (ESPN2)
Semifinal winners, 5. p.m. Aug. 11 (ESPN)
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